Control over your dog

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Control over your dog

There is no point in having a dog that is only obedient if he is on leash or if you have food on you.” Dr Ian Dunbar.

Most of the dogs I am asked to rehabilitate have owners who find it too difficult to control them. These dogs are what can be termed, “Under cooked.” Their owners took them to Puppy school, bought books, watched TV dog programmes or did some training at a club but did not fully understand the training concepts or stopped before they had mastered proper control over their dogs. They spend nearly all their time and energy controlling the dog instead of getting the dog to control itself. I tell my dog, “You can get what you want as soon as you calm down and control yourself.” You need to be patient but also very insistent.

The following training concepts should be re-visited if you find that your dog is disobedient or listens only when on leash or when food is available.

Dog’s name. You cannot teach a dog anything if he is not paying attention!

The dog’s name means, “Pay attention.” When a dog hears its name it must immediately look at the caller to be praised or rewarded.  This is not a request, but a command! If the dog does not react soon enough, clap your hands and say, “Hey, I’m calling you.” Reward in the beginning as soon as you see those brown eyes looking at you. Repeat often at home, in the garden, on walks, in the car, day and night, week in and out until you have perfection.

“Sit” The first and most useful command all dogs must learn.

When a dog has mastered the “Sit” he cannot go walk-about, jump on people, fight another dog, cross the road or grab food off the counter. Everything can be stopped before it happens if the dog has a reliable, “Sit.”

To test yourself, have your dog standing next to you, turn your back to the dog, fold your arms, look up and tell your dog to sit and see if the dog obeys you. Make sure with further tests by sitting or lying down, standing on a ladder etc. to see how well the dog understands the sit command when given in another context or in front of guests. Can you tell your dog to sit when it is on the other side of the road or when it comes running to you?

Most untrained dogs will happily sit when ordered to do so but immediately afterwards get up and carry on with what they had done before. They need to be taught that Sit means Sit until given an alternative or release command. I immediately respond with, “No, sit!” and a forward movement when this happens. Never leave a dog sitting for long otherwise they are inclined to lie down and you will be encouraging disobedience.

Because dogs have a difficulty in generalising, they need to do frequent sits on a walk, at the beach, in shops, in the play park and in the house until they realise that “Sit” means that they have to obey the command whenever and wherever it is given.

Quick sits and emergency sits need to be practised regularly. I play a game with Polo using two balls or toys. I throw one to be fetched and will only release the second one after a “Sit.” Quanto will only get his food after a “Sit- stand- down- sit” sequence of commands.  

Leash. A leash is a training tool and means, “Follow me.

The leash should be used only to guide the dog to walk behind or next to the handler.  The most common mistake is to pull backwards on the leash in order to slow the dog down. This pulling action creates tension on the leash and a competition between handler and dog resulting in the dog pulling harder. By doing this you are actually teaching or encouraging the dog to pull.

Do not attempt to attach a leash until the dog is completely calm. When dogs see the leash they anticipate walkies and go bananas. Show them the leash and sit down to read something until the dog sits or lies down in a relaxed manner. You decide when to move, not the dog!

When starting out on leash training, the walk should not go anywhere but be confined to a driveway or garden until the dog understands the new way of walking. With the dog sitting calmly, on your left side, on a loose leash, say, “Come with me” and step off on your left leg, walk 3 or 4 paces,  call your dog’s name for attention,  and turn sharply to your right so that the dog is behind you. Carry on walking without pulling on the leash or looking at the dog. As soon as the dog catches up to you, praise, “Good dog,” then again call his name as you turn to your right. Repeat the sequence of walking in a square.  A warning of an intended turn must be given each time as well as praise for attempts at walking at your side.

The walking pattern can be changed to about turning, left turns and halts before venturing to a new training area such as the road just outside your property. Again going nowhere at first. This is followed by repeat starts at different venues. Gradually the number of paces in a direction can be changed intermittently so that the dog has to keep an eye on you to know when you are going to change direction. The dog must learn to watch you and not the other way round as one sees at training clubs.

What is important to remember is that calling for attention or a sit as well as leash training are ongoing exercises and require regular practice. If the dog does not sit straight away, call him closer and make him sit repeatedly until you are satisfied with his response.

Your aim must be to achieve off-leash, voice control over your dog.

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